Holliger: Romancendres; Gesänge der Frühe; C Schumann: Drei Romanzen

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Holliger,Schumann
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Holliger: Romancendres; Gesänge der Frühe; C Schumann: Drei Romanzen
PERFORMER: Christoph Richter (cello), Dénes Várjon (piano); SWR Vocal Ensemble, Stuttgart; Stuttgart Radio SO, SWR/Heinz Holliger
CATALOGUE NO: 476 3225

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Heinz Holliger repeatedly explores the fragile boundaries between creativity and madness, so Robert Schumann’s descent into madness predictably intrigues him, as shown in both his works on this disc, released to mark his 70th birthday.

The earlier of them, Gesänge der Frühe, from 1987, takes its title from Schumann’s last piano cycle, and weaves together quotations from those pieces and other late works such as the Manfred incidental music, with choral settings of Hölderlin’s verse and spoken extracts from Schumann’s last letters and from the autopsy reports on both the composer and the poet.

The result is a strange hybrid of documentary and grandiloquent oratorio, whose carefully terraced choral textures and dense packed orchestral writing pack a real and rather disquieting visceral power.

Among the works of her husband that Clara Schumann is known to have destroyed 40 years after his death is a set of Five Romances for cello and piano. While her own Romances, touchingly played by Christoph Richter and Dénes Várjon, are like pale imitations of what those pieces might have been, Holliger’s own Romancendres for the same instrumental combination from 2004 is a series of meditations on the phantom originals, based upon descriptions by the violinist Joachim and studded with biographical allusions and Schumannesque ciphers.

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The sound world is extraordinarily varied, full of  rustlings, scrapings and whispered asides, and just occasional touching glimpses of the musical territory Schumann’s pieces may have inhabited. Andrew Clements